The Backstory Behind “Cocaine Bear”

Cocaine bear has gained controversial popularity since its release on February 24, 2023.

Yahoo Sports

Cocaine bear has gained controversial popularity since its release on February 24, 2023.

Arya Banerjee, Photo Journalist

“Cocaine Bear,” a movie about a bear that’s high on cocaine, is actually based on a true story that happened in the 1980s. The story is about a black bear who ate a large amount of cocaine that was dropped from a plane by a drug smuggler. The bear’s death and the events leading up to it are known today as the “Cocaine Bear” incident.


In September 1985, a small plane piloted by 21-year-old Andrew Thornton II crashed in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia. Thornton was carrying over 70 pounds of cocaine, which he had planned to drop from the plane to be picked up by his associates on the ground. But, the plane crashed before Thornton could carry out his plan, scattering the cocaine all over the forest.


A few days later, hikers stumbled upon the body of a black bear in the forest. All that was left were the bones and hide. The autopsy showed that the bear consumed 3-4 grams of cocaine and died from an overdose. The incident made national news and became the subject of much media attention.


In the following years after the incident, the story of the “Cocaine Bear” created a cult following, with many people finding the absurdity of the situation to be humorous. Then in 2015, author Kevin Sessums published a book titled “Cocaine Bear” that investigated the incident and the larger context of drug trafficking in the 1980s.


The 2023 movie “Cocaine Bear” is directed by Elizabeth Banks and stars Keri Russell and Ray Liotta. The movie’s genre is described as a “dark comedy” and is a fictionalized account of the events leading up to the black bear’s death. While the movie has taken creative liberties with the true story, it definitely captures the absurdity of the “Cocaine Bear” incident, shares Emily Soto (10). 


People have criticized the movie for making a joke about a serious issue that affects more wildlife than people think. They argue that the movie glamorizes drug use and perpetuates harmful stereotypes about drug culture. However,  others have defended the movie, explaining that it’s supposed to be comedic and is not meant to be received as something offensive. 


Ultimately cocaine bear is an entertaining movie that delivers a strong a significant message through an existing cinematic experience. Even though this movie stirred controversy, it still sheds light on an important problem.